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Prominent Catholic rights activist's trial postponed

Vietnam government accused of ducking international criticism
Prominent Catholic rights activist's trial postponed

Catholics attend a special Mass for Quan at a church in Nghe An province last weekend

Published: July 09, 2013 08:23 AM GMT
Updated: July 08, 2013 10:38 PM GMT

Vietnam has postponed the trial of one of its most prominent human rights defenders amid mounting pressure for his release by activists and international human rights organizations.

Joseph Le Quoc Quan, a Hanoi-based Catholic lawyer, was due to go on trial today for alleged tax evasion.

However, in a notice sent to Quan’s lawyer yesterday, the People’s Court of Hanoi said the trial had been postponed because the trial judge had gone down with flu. No new date for the trial has been supplied.

Quan, 42, faces charges of having evaded tax payments amounting to 437,500,000 dong (US$20,636), charges which rights groups say are frequently used by the authorities to jail and silence government critics.

He was arrested on December 27 2012, nine days after the BBC published an article in which Quan commented about amending Vietnam’s constitution, particularly the retaining of an article giving the Communist Party preeminence in national life.   

Quan could face up to seven years in prison and a heavy fine if convicted of the charges.

His arrest sparked outrage among activists and international human rights organizations.

“Le Quoc Quan is being put on trial because he is a prominent and effective critic,” Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said yesterday before news of  the postponement was announced.

“Instead of addressing popular dissatisfaction with Vietnam’s political system, economic failures, and dire human rights record, the government is simply throwing critics in prison.”

Some activists say the postponement was an indication the government was starting to buckle under the weight of international pressure.  

Anna Tran Thi Huong, an activist, said “the government postponed the trial to avoid pressure from domestic activists and international human rights organizations." 

“The government also feared protests outside the court may have spiraled out of control. The trial would have attracted a lot of people wanting to express their support for Quan,” she said.

Yesterday Quan’s family posted a letter on internet branding the trial “illegal” and called Quan a patriot dedicating himself to promoting democratic principles and trying to build a government for and by the people.

They also called on people to “come and see” the trial that aimed to jail a person who raised his voice for justice, truth and peace.

In his latest letter posted on internet, Quan dismissed the charges against him.

"I'm just a victim of political decisions and acts," he said.

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